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When Too Much Sugar is a Bad Thing

Our bodies and cells rely on sugar, or glucose, to function properly. We primarily get glucose from the foods we eat. Our pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin that helps transport glucose from our blood to the cells in our body. Through this process, we turn our food into fuel for our body.
For some individuals, the process breaks down because their bodies cannot produce, or are resistant, to insulin. For these people, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream causing symptoms ranging from dry mouth and frequent urination to coma and even death. The most common illness responsible for this insulin deficiency is diabetes. Hyperglycemia is a hallmark of both diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2. While less common, hyperglycemia can also be caused by pancreatitis, Cushing’s syndrome, pancreatic cancer and some medications. It is crucial for diabetics to keep their blood glucose levels under control using insulin, medication, food management, or some combination of all three.

Early symptoms of hyperglycemia include:

  • – Increased thirst
  • – Frequent urination
  • – Headache
  • – Dry mouth
  • – Fatigue
  • – Blurred vision

Individuals who are prone to hyperglycemia should pay attention to these symptoms and check blood sugar levels as soon as possible. Untreated elevated blood glucose levels can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis in individuals with type 1 diabetes and hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS) in those with type 2 diabetes. Both conditions can be life-threatening.

Symptoms of ketoacidosis are:

  • – Shortness of breath
  • – Dry mouth
  • – “Fruity” smelling breath
  • – High ketone level in urine
  • – Upset stomach or supressed appetite

HHNS is more likely to occur during a period of illness, is less common overall and includes the following symptoms:

  • – Very high blood glucose levels
  • – High fever
  • – Sleepiness
  • – Vision loss

Maintaining control of blood sugar levels is the most effective way of preventing hyperglycemia. In addition to the potential emergencies caused by acute hyperglycemia, chronic elevated blood sugar levels wreak havoc on the body. Long term complications of hyperglycemia include damage to the eyes, heart, and kidneys. Nerve damage caused by chronic hyperglycemia can lead to poor wound healing and diabetic neuropathy.